How many Danish pop stars have topped the charts in China? One of them was at the Midem conference today, as artist Christopher was joined by his manager and key execs from Warner Music Group to explain his Chinese success.
The group included Beth Appleton, SVP of global marketing at WMG; manager Thomas Børresen; Jonas Siljemark, president Nordics at WMG; and Simon Robson, president Asia at WMG. The moderator was CMU’s Chris Cooke.
Børresen kicked things off, explaining that the project started with an invitation for Christopher to appear on a TV show in China, as part of a showcase of Danish culture. “I didn’t know much about the music scene and how to handle that,” he said. Which is when WMG helped out. “They grabbed the ball and ran with it: they already had the team there,” he said.
Siljemark said that Warner has been on the look-out for opportunities in unexpected places. “Music comes from everywhere today. That’s a very important message for everybody. But it could also break everywhere. By history labels have been looking mostly at the big western countries… but one of the biggest markets in the world is east!”
Appleton chimed in. “Our job is to be in communication with our countries around the world all the time. We’re always looking at how we’re building local talent, and then how local talent can cross borders, and what the next opportunity will be,” she said.
Robson talked about the opportunities in China. “We’re tying to find international artists that can cross over, and Christopher has all the elements to cross over,” he said.
“China is a truly unique market. People will say that about a lot of markets, but this one really is unique… There is absolutely no western social media in China. So if you start creating a noise outside of China… it’s very muted. You have no Facebook, you have no Twitter, no Snapchat, no Instagram. You don’t even have YouTube. So you’re effectively having to start again, and the only way to do that is by going into the country.”
Christopher gave his perspective, remembering how his first success in China puzzled him, when he was told. “He said ‘we have a number one on QQ Music!’ I said ‘Great! What is QQ Music?’… but then I said ‘we have to go’ and after going there and doing the TV performances, we felt it start to grow.” To the point where his debut gig was to 3,000 people in Beijing.
“It opened our eyes to a new market that we didn’t even expect anything from,” said Børresen. “If you invest the time in it and you really want to give something, you’ll get it back.”
Robson agreed. “You have to come regularly… if you can come to China say for a week or half a week on a regular basis, it makes all the difference. And this is what Christopher and Thomas have been doing: they have been to China five times in two and a half years. Every six months. It’s perfect.”
Robson praised Christopher for his willingness to “make a fool of yourself” in response to media demands in China, winning friends among local broadcasters and influencers.
“It’s really important that you put on the yes-man attitude,” said Christopher. “If they want you to eat pork intestines on television, and put on yellow pants and dance… but two weeks later you play a sold-out show in Nanjing, a city you didn’t even know existed?” In that situation, the awkward interviews don’t seem like a burden, he said.
Christopher has also learned to sing one of his songs in Mandarin: a trick he showed off during the keynote session:
— MusicAlly (@MusicAlly) June 7, 2017
Christopher is reaching fans through Chinese social networks like Weibo and WeChat, posting himself in English, while WMG’s team helps out with Mandarin posts. Services like QQ Music are also proving important partners. One live video stream attracted 640,000 of his Chinese fans. “It just shows how Christopher’s profile is building up in China,” said Robson.
“People feel that if there’s no Facebook there’s a Facebook equivalent. What we’re finding with China now is yes, there are Facebook equivalents, but there are more services on them. It’s really interesting: they’re starting to drive things that in the west we’re not doing.”
Siljemark reiterated that communication between the different WMG offices and Christopher’s team has been key to all this. “If you look at south east Asia, the way they think about connecting with audiences and fans is future-progressive. We can learn a lot,” added Appleton. “There’s just some wonderful collaborations. Just last week, you did a collaboration with a professional dance troupe,” she said to Christopher.
Robson had the last word. “I would love a situation: what I’m trying to aim for with Christopher is that we can use Asia as a springboard to break him around the world. That is what we’re trying to achieve.”
Music Ally’s Midem 2017 coverage is supported this year by Music is GREAT, the British government’s campaign to promote UK music exports.
The UK and British Music are represented through the British Music at Midem stand, with the Department for International Trade joining forces with music industry associations AIM (Association of Independent Music), BPI (British Phonographic Industry), MPA (Music Publishers Association), PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) and PRS for Music.
Together, they will support over 150 UK music businesses and member delegates as they seek to pick up on the latest trends, connect with international companies, sign deals and develop trading and export opportunities.